Ecuador: Upcoming Vote Could Alter Laws Governing Mass Media

Posted on November 11, 2014 • Filed under: Ecuador, Politics, Social Issues / Dylan Baddour/ An upcoming vote that could alter the laws governing mass media in Ecuador has stoked fears in the Andean nation that the end of a free press in near.

The constitutional court recently declared that the National Assembly could bypass a public referendum to decide if the 2013 Communication Law – which would categorize media as a “public service” subject to government regulation – will become part of the nation’s constitution.

According to critics, the proposed constitutional amendment represents a turning point in the gradual dismantling of critical journalism establishments in Ecuador while free press advocates worry that the decision could pave the way for a state media monopoly, a trend reflected by some of the leftist nation’s regional allies.

Privately-owned media companies have already been weakened in the seven years under Rafael Correa’s “citizens’ revolution.” The president has consistently berated private media in the country, accusing them of serving the interests of wealthy owners to the detriment of the people.

But journalists say the executive leader is looking to silence dissent and further control the country’s press, which has become less critical of the government in recent years.

“At this time, there are few private media who resist and maintain a certain independence. But they are growing increasingly isolated these days,” said César Ricaurte, director of the Andean Foundation for Media Study and Observation, Fundamedios, in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. “There are very few independent media with a critical view of the government.”

Ricaurte added that the Communication Law – with 119 articles spread across 24 pages – is being used subjectively to sanction publications that challenge the official line, pressuring them to revise their content. It speaks to the fact that the most critical media outlets in Ecuador have already closed their doors. The 34-year-old daily newspaper Hoy, known to be critical of the government, stopped printing in June. It was the latest and largest of five major Ecuadorian newspapers that have folded in recent years.

“It’s a situation where an authoritarian system is consolidating itself,” said Diego Menacho in an interview with the Knight Center. “Our perspective is that they are looking to make some media outlets disappear. And Hoy has already disappeared.”

Menacho is the director of the Ecuadorian Association of Newspaper Editors and in 2007, he ended a 20-year career as the sub-director of Hoy. He said the paper went bankrupt after the government revoked contracts, intimidated advertisers, blocked their line of credit, alleged tax violations, and prosecuted journalists under the recently minted Communication Law.

As dissenting voices are eliminated from the media landscape, the Correa government has simultaneously grown its holdings. In November 2013, Fundamedios reported that the Ecuadorian state owned 21 media outlets, though Ricaurte said that the number has since grown to 30. The report also outlined heavy government spending on pro-administration publicity, especially during Correa’s weekly talk show, when the president is known to deride the misgivings of the private press.

“There has never been, in Ecuador’s recent history, a government that’s had a policy that so frequently harasses the private media,” Ricaurte said. “The president has signaled that the existence of private means of communication is a problem. And this problem has to be solved by applying a constant politic of pressure against the private media.” Read Article


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